5 Reasons to Watch Crazy Ex-Girlfriend

I adore this show, but for whatever reason, I have a really hard time selling Crazy Ex-Girlfriend to people. The premise of the show is pretty stupid: hotshot New York Lawyer Rebecca Bunch moves to the shitty California town of West Covina to pursue the boy who broke her heart at summer camp when she was seventeen. And it’s a musical.

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But it’s also a frank look at mental illness, feminism and romcom culture; it deconstructs the idea that a relationship is the solution to all problems. And it’s a musical.

It’s a fantastic show. Let’s talk about some of the reasons why.

  1. The songs

So far so obvious, but the songs in Crazy Ex-Girlfriend are hilarious and catchy while also functioning as vehicles through which to communicate greater emotional truths. So in the second episode when Rebecca meets Josh (the guy she moved to West Covina for’s) girlfriend, Valencia, her song about her own superiority over Rebecca (featuring lines such as ‘I’m not afraid to get tattoos/and they are all in Sanskrit/butt stuff doesn’t hurt at all/most times I prefer it) ends with the line ‘my father didn’t leave me.’

It’s a funny song about how we compare ourselves to other women that reveals an important truth about Rebecca. Her dad abandoned her.

And it was the song that made me fall in love with the show.

  1. Bisexuality!

This is a minor spoiler (sorry not sorry), but one of the storylines half way through the first season sees Rebecca’s boss Darryl come out as bisexual. As we all know, representation of bisexual people is pretty much non-existent on most shows, and on the rare occasions we do see it portrayal is overwhelmingly negative. In Crazy Ex-Girlfriend we see a divorced man with a daughter heading into middle age realising that he’s attracted to men as well as women, going through the process of coming out and then having a happy, healthy relationship with a very cute guy. For a group so often marginalised even within the LGBTQ+ community, this storyline felt important.

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  1. Complex (like really really complex) women

There is a trope on a lot of shows of the perfect girl getting with the complicated, emotionally unavailable guy (Gossip Girl, New Girl, Veronica Mars, every teen movie from the 80s) that Crazy Ex-Girlfriend really turns on its head. Rebecca is the kind of girl to cause her therapist despair. She’s a woman trying to figure out how to make herself okay without really knowing how to go about doing that. And it doesn’t really matter whether she’s likeable or not during the process.

As someone who is sick of watching shows about women trying to ‘fix’ difficult men, I found this beyond refreshing.

  1. Diverse cast

Josh Chan, the romantic interest and male lead of the show is a first generation Filipino American man. Unless they’re John Cho, Asian men are generally typecast into very limited stereotypes and those generally don’t feature much in the way of romance or sex. Josh Chan turns that on its head by being basically the bro-iest bro in bro-town. He is a complex romantic interest with storylines (and issues! So many issues.) all of his own. In a world where seeing Aziz Ansari perform a sex scene is considered ground-breaking, characters like Josh Chan are so, so needed.

  1. Feminism

How can a show called Crazy Ex-Girlfriend be feminist? I hear you ask. In all sorts of ways, it turns out. Through the mediums of song and melodrama the show tackles everything from eating disorders to abortion from a very unique perspective. It is also puts a lot of energy into satirising ‘feminism’ as empowertising, with songs like Put Yourself First sung during a typical post-boy problem makeover. Sample lines include:

‘Put yourself first girl worry ‘bout yourself/make yourself sexy just for yourself/so when dudes we see you put yourself first/they’ll be like damn you’re hot/Wanna make out?’

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It’s a great and terribly underappreciated show. The first two seasons are on Netflix and they are working on a third as I type, so you’ve got plenty of time to catch up with the trials (because she’s a lawyer! It’s funny!) and tribulations of Rebecca Bunch before the third season begins.

Should Characters be Likeable?

Earlier in the week I reviewed Play It As It Lays by Joan Didion. It was one of those novels that I couldn’t help but feel had waited for me until it knew that it was the right time, that I was in the right head space. That I needed it.

But the truth is, the book had me riled before I even started reading. In his introductory essay, Something About Maria, David Thompson spends some time dwelling on the question of Maria, the protagonist of Play It As It Lays, and her likeability.

Even with no knowledge of her at that point, I could only engage with the debate in the form of some serious side eye.

Are we REALLY still talking about this?

FYI, this blog post is about gender equality in being shitty.

Let me explain myself.

When a male character acts like an asshole, but as the protagonist of the story we are drawn to him anyway, he is called an anti-hero. A Don Draper. Logan from Veronica Mars. Every male lead in every detective show ever. He’s awful, but sexy. Shitty, but funny. We want nothing more than to bury our heads inside of his chest in the hope we might find some answers in the heart beating there.

(But we never will. But we’ll never stop).

What we DON’T do is spend endless hours, think pieces, youtube videos (youtube comment sections) talking about whether he’s ‘likeable’.

Nah, only female characters get that treatment. Female characters like Maria.

Because, as a female lead character, she breaks the rules. She isn’t concerned with whether or not the reader ‘likes’ her. She isn’t quirky and relatable.

We don’t use anti-hero so much when talking about women. We have other words: Bitch. Crazy. Slut.

An anti-hero can be all these things. But in a female character? Rather than a study of human character we find it kind of… icky.

Alida Nugent talks about this a lot in her essays on feminism, You Don’t Have To Like Me. She writes that:

‘As women, we place a lot of stock into being liked. We are supposed to be liked, to be agreeable, to be demure. We aren’t supposed to be disruptive. Saying you’re a feminist means you want more. Women and Oliver Twist should never want more! It’s not ladylike (or orphanlike). We are supposed to be happy. Say yes. Nod Along.’

We aren’t supposed to be disruptive. I think that’s the central problem. When we encounter these women, these unlikeable women, something feels wrong.

Rather than engage, we turn away in the hope such action will put those women back in their boxes.

It won’t.

The truth is this: female characters don’t have to be likeable. They don’t owe that to you.

Women can be cute and smart and funny and dark and damaged and terrible. They can contain as many multitudes as a man.

And we should read about all of them.

So can we PLEASE stop discussing whether or not female characters are likeable? There are so many more interesting questions.

 

 

Top Reads of 2016

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Vivian V.S. America – Katie Coyle

To be totally honest, Vivian V.S. the Apocalypse did not give me all that it’s amazing title led me to hope for. It contained some interesting ideas, but was dominated by trope-ish romance and naval gazing that didn’t really fit the seriousness of its subject matter. I liked it enough that I would read the sequel if the opportunity arose, but I wasn’t desperate about it. Then, in January when I was jobless, broke and in no position to add any more books to my ever-increasing credit card bill, I picked up a copy of Vivian V.S. America at the library.

Oh. My. God.

The sequel contained all the urgency, critical thinking and painful cynicism that I wanted from its predecessor. Coyle’s look into a world turned upside down by a cult places society under a microscope and tears it to shreds. It is a necessary read.

One – Sarah Crossan

Another library find. One is the sort of book that you read in a day and spend at least a week mourning. The story of conjoined twins forced first out into the world and then into separation is one that will curl up inside your heart and take up residence before smashing the thing into a thousand bloody pieces.

It’s totally worth it.

To Kill a Mockingbird – Harper Lee

This is another read for which I have my local library to thank.

In a time of confusion, spiralling hatred and prejudice and an internet that seems like a bottomless pit of spite… I would recommend taking a break to read some Harper Lee. To Kill a Mockingbird is a novel full of lessons of which we all need constant reminding – everyone should have access to the same rights and freedoms. You have to stand up for what you believe in, even when it’s scary. People are actually okay… when you finally see them.

Honestly, reading this book is one of the best things you can do for your heart.

Wolf by Wolf AND Blood for Blood – Ryan Graudin

I have never read anything like this duology. In it, Graudin manipulates history, allowing Hitler victory in World War II and the hellish dystopian world dominated by cruelty, violence and wilful ignorance that follows.

She tells the story of the resistance, led by Yael, a young Jewish girl experimented on in a concentration camp and subsequently trained to be Hitler’s assassin.

I ADORE Graudin’s writing. It is immersive, evocative and heart rending. You will not finish this series in one piece.

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My Life on the Road – Gloria Steinem

Gloria Steinem, for anyone who doesn’t know, is a famous feminist activist. She has basically dedicated her life to it. That life is the subject of this book and OH MY GOD. I loved it. I loved it so much I couldn’t review it. There is no reducing this book into a 500 (who am I kidding? – 800+) word blog post.

My Life on the Road is like a how-to guide for intersectional feminism and ally-ship. Steinem has spent her entire adult life travelling the world and talking to different women about their experiences and how they intersect with race, gender and economic situation. And once she knows a lady’s problems, she tries to help her solve them.

The whole time I was reading I couldn’t help but hope I have as many stories when I am her age.

(not doing very well so far, but that is a different blog post).

Half of a Yellow Sun – Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

I am IN LOVE with this woman. Not only did she get sampled in a Beyonce song, became the face of Boots cosmetics (drugstore makeup brand in the UK – seeing her face on bus stops makes me happy every day), wrote the speech that I send to anyone who questions my stance on feminism AND revealed her pregnancy in perhaps my favourite way ever (by NOT revealing it and then casually referencing breast feeding in an interview, way after the kid had been born. The interviewer was like ‘say WHAT now?!’) but she is also – before any of these things – one of the most talented authors writing today.

Half of a Yellow Sun is a book detailing the horrors of the Biafran war told from three perspectives, Ugwu, a houseboy from a small village, Olanna, a middle class Nigerian woman educated in the UK and Richard, a white British man  desperate to tell ‘the true story’ of Africa. It is a book about war, relationships and storytelling – specifically who should be doing it. It is a story of sisterhood and loss.

Just read it.

Sweetbitter – Stephanie Danler

Required reading for your twenties. It’s about that space between girl and womanhood. You know, the one spent waitressing. It’s beautiful.

Lies We Tell Ourselves – Robin Talley

Set in 1959 Virginia, this is a story about the integration of the previously all white Jefferson High School. It’s narrated by Sarah Dunbar, one of the few black students, and Linda Hairston, a white girl whose daddy may as well be called Trump.

Sarah’s every school day is a living nightmare. She lives in constant fear of her fellow students who push, spit and scream at her. Linda watches it all, telling herself she doesn’t think that it’s wrong.

They both tell themselves they don’t have any feelings for each other at all.

This is a novel about fighting for your rights and knowing yourself. It’s about hard truths, and the lengths we will go to avoid them. It is a stunning example of YA, and I hope a copy finds its way into school libraries everywhere.

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No Matter the Wreckage – Sarah Kay

Sarah Kay writes beautiful poetry. Reading this book is like listening to your favourite album. You want to hear it over and over again.

Crooked Kingdom – Leigh Bardugo

Because OBVIOUSLY.

The Sun is Also a Star – Nicola Yoon

A late entry into the list, but an important one. This is such a beautiful book. The Sun is Also a Star is a story about the experience of being from an immigrant family in America.

As in Everything Everything, Yoon’s approach to complicated family relationships is delicate and tonally perfect. Natasha’s family are undocumented immigrants from Jamaica, about to be deported because of her father. The pain of her family is palpable in every line.

Daniel, born in America to Korean parents feels trapped between identities: at home he must be the well behaved future doctor whereas at school he dreams of writing poetry. Yoon uses the tense relationship Daniel has with his brother – a current medical student who wishes to distance himself from his heritage – as a means to explore these dualities.

It is such a clever book. I’ll write a long gushing review about my love for it soon. Suffice to say, Nicola Yoon has solidified her place as one of my favourite authors.

 

So, I think I’m back? I didn’t realise how much I had missed blogging until I started putting this post together. Like everyone else, I have spent the last few days contemplating 2016 – my personal 2016, that is – and feeling…. Pretty disappointed in myself. But, looking back over the year, I found some comfort in the fact that I have read some incredible books. And I have had a really great time writing about them, and discussing them with other bloggers. So even though I don’t have any of the markers of success I would like (and am feeling increasingly unsure of whether I actually want them at all… again, probably the subject of a different post), I think I have done something great for myself this year.

Stories are what’s most important to me, after all.

The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo

TW for discussions of rape and sexual assault.

The Industrialist

Henrk Vanger, head of the dynastic Vanger Corporation, is tormented by the loss of a child decades earlier and convinced that a member of his family has committed the murder.

The Journalist

Mikael Blomkvist delves deep into the Vangers’ past to uncover the truth behind the unsolved mystery. But someone else wants the past to remain a secret and will go to any lengths to keep it that way. 

The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo

Lisbeth Salander, the enigmatic, delinquent and dangerous security specialist, assists in the investigation. A genius computer hacker, she tolerates no restrictions placed upon her by individuals, society or the law. 

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I knew going in that The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, by Stieg Larsson was a book that was concerned with rape and sexual violence. What I didn’t realise was that it is consumed by it. There are graphic, horrifying scenes of rape and sexual assault in this novel. Had I known before starting the book how upsetting it would be, I probably wouldn’t have read it at all.

That said, I’m really glad that I did. The words ‘feminist hero’ get thrown around a lot. Usually it refers to a girl with quick wit who isn’t afraid to use her fists. She’s almost always beautiful. She is nothing like the girl with the dragon tattoo. Lisbeth Salander is a warrior crafted by a misogynist culture. She’s unconcerned with beauty and a lot more interested in repelling people than attracting them. She’s a genius of the Sherlock-ian variety.

She’s also a ward of the state who spent her formative years either locked in a psychiatric institution or running from ill-equipped foster families (and usually into the police). After an incident in which she kicked a man in the head (after he groped her, in front of several witnesses), she is declared emotionally disturbed (because she refused to participate in her psychiatric evaluation), and in need of a guardian. This means that all her assets and interests are controlled by a state sanctioned official. While reading, you can’t help but feel Lisbeth is being punished for her lack of conformity to the agreed standards of femininity rather than any actual law breaking. Her crimes are: defending herself from the men who would attack her, having a lot of sex, using drugs and a refusal to co-operate with the agreed norms of society. Worldwide, there is a grim history of the violent removal of freedom from women who are deemed a threat to those aforementioned norms. Whether it’s force-feeding suffragettes on hunger strike, female genital mutilation, institutionalising women for their ‘hysterical wandering wombs’ or burning them at the stake for ‘being witches’ – women who refuse to conform are punished and forced to live as outcasts with control over their finances, spaces and their bodies taken from them.

Lisbeth suffers all these injustices at the hands of the state. In addition to taking control of her finances and thus, her freedom, her government appointed guardian, Advokat Bjurman, rapes her twice.

The rape is an event that is supposed to break Lisbeth. Bjurman’s intent is to control her, force her to submit to the obedience and quiet that comprise the norms of femininity (as it’s defined by misogynist culture). Rather than shrink, as she is supposed to, and continue to have non-consensual sex with him in return for her own money, as he intends, Lisbeth makes a plan. Owing to her history with institutionalisation, the police don’t feel like an option, so she instead develops her own twisted violent revenge scheme. I can’t pretend that reading Lisbeth ruin Bjurman beyond repair was anything but satisfying. In the span of only a few hours she picks apart the pieces of his life, removing his power as thoroughly as he tried to do her own. She leaves him defeated, the words ‘I AM A SADISTIC PIG, A PERVERT AND A RAPIST’ literally tattooed across his violated, trembling body.

From what I can gather, there were many readers uncomfortable with Lisbeth’s actions. During some reading I did to prep for writing this review, I found book club discussion points online, all of them questioning whether or not Lisbeth took the right action. These questions speak directly to the point that Larsson wants to make about gender norms. As I said, the rape was supposed to defeat Lisbeth. Instead, it enraged her. She was obsessed with regaining her power. That led her to take violent action, something we rarely attribute to women, and especially women we consider victims. Larsson uses the almost instinctive sympathy we feel for Bjurman during Lisbeth’s attack as a demonstration of internalised misogyny. While what happened to Lisbeth was awfully inevitable – the rape of a young, troubled woman with no family support and criminal tendencies – what happened the Bjurman – the assault of a wealthy, middle class white man – was disturbing and completely unexpected.

Larsson originally called this series Men Who Hate Women. I wish the publishers had stuck with it. After her rape, Lisbeth becomes driven by the defeat of such men. It is what the rest of the novel – because the events I have discussed make up barely a quarter of it – is about.

The Only Girl in the Gang

Discussing the representation of women in film will only get old when the situation gets better. With the recent release of Now You See Me 2, it’s obvious that we’ve still got a long way to go.

The Now You See Me franchise, like so many others – The Avengers, The Fantastic Four, etc – has a serious woman problem. Namely that they can only handle one of them at a time. The setup is familiar: a team is brought together through extraordinary circumstances: magic, crime fighting, revenge, etc. Three of them are men, one a woman. With a couple of notable exceptions, this is the format of the central team of every action movie ever.

Is it just me, or is it getting a little tired?

Now You See Me 2 is a particularly frustrating example. In the first movie, The Four Horsemen, the famously befuddling, bank robbing magic act was comprised of Jessie Eisenberg, Woody Harrelson, Dave Franco and Isla Fisher. In the second movie, from which Fisher was reportedly absent due to her pregnancy, she was replaced by Lizzy Caplan. The writers attempted to get around this by acknowledging it, having Lulu, Caplan’s character joke that ‘I’m the new girl horseman!’, but the joke really only served to raise the obvious question. Why was there only one girl horseman in the first place?

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A lot of it comes down to the limited roles women are allowed to play. In Now You See Me, Henley’s (Fisher) primary function is as a love interest to Jessie Eisenberg’s inscrutable J. Daniel Atlas. The only other major female character in the entire movie, Alma (Melanie Laurent) plays a similar role to Mark Ruffalo’s Dylan Rhodes. In Now You See Me 2 – in which there are even fewer women with decent speaking roles – Lulu, Henley’s replacement quickly establishes herself as super into Dave Franco and makes sure to remind us of her attraction to him. Regularly. The only girl in the group is always cast as the love interest.

This particular role could not be more obvious than in the various Avengers movies, in which Scarlett Johansson’s character, Black Widow, has played the potential girlfriend of just about everybody. This demonstrates a pretty narrow view of women’s capabilities, and in the case of Black Widow, really serves to trivialise her character. Her co-stars even laugh about it in interviews. It strikes me that perhaps rather than slut shaming the character in the press, it might be nice to see Johansson and co. questioning why Black Widow is written that way in the first place.  Marvel has established a world in which it is possible for men to exist without love interests – Bucky Barnes and Sam Wilson are going through pretty major dry spells – but women cannot. Even in the more recent movies, with the introduction of Scarlet Witch, she stepped out of the shadow of her twin brother only to be paired with Paul Bettany’s creepy robot man, Vision.

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But the tropes don’t stop there.

Not only is the woman an available love interest for sometimes multiple male characters, but she has to mother them too. I might be picking at a freshly healed scab, but it’s impossible not talk about Age of Ultron’s most cringe-worthy moment: the lullaby, when Black Widow is asked to turn the Hulk back into Bruce Banner. Of the entire team, apparently only she can accomplish this. Not Tony Stark, who the writers have gone to great pains to assure us – through both The Avengers and a scene at the end of Iron Man 3 – is knee-deep in a Banner bromance. No, talking down a hulk takes the sort of loving nurture of which Marvel level masculinity is apparently incapable. It was only ever going to be Black Widow’s job. The stereotype lives on and the audience are reminded that, despite all the fighting, she is still a woman after all. And what do women do? As Black Widow says later on in the movie ‘I’m always picking up after you boys.’

Like I said, cringe.

Gamora gets to play a similar role in Guardians of the Galaxy. She spends much of the movie berating playboy Peter Quill – who has mummy issues of course – for his irresponsible lifestyle and childish personality.  In one scene when the newly assembled team are making themselves at home on Quill’s space ship, Gamora informs him that the place is filthy. And then there’s a really lingering shot of her butt while she walks up the stairs. Mothering? Check. Sexy love interest? Check, check.

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Ultimately, I think this is much of the reason behind why there is only ever one woman on the team. Why have more than one, when her role is so limited? The group only needs one mother, after all, and most audiences can’t be expected to care about multiple romances in the same story. The only way to ditch this trope and get together a team with some girl power is to expand our perceptions of what women can be and do. Ditch the skimpy outfits and the victimisation. Don’t cast them in the role of the sexy parent figure. If by some chance there is more than one woman in the movie, let them have a scene together. Perhaps rather than casting them as rivals, a la Gamora and her sister, Nebula, let them be a team as much as the guys are. Make a movie poster where the women are as active as the men, rather than posed and passive.

The situation is bleak, but I have hope. If it is a movie studio’s job to entertain, then in serving up the same tired stereotypes over and over again, they are failing. Maybe Now You See Me 3 – which is, somewhat unbelievably, a thing – will see the return of Henley, and she and Lulu will share some screen time. Perhaps despite its traditional set up, Marvel’s next Netflix collaboration, The Defenders – made up of three men and Jessica Jones, sigh – will find a way to turn the trope on its head. They’ve done it before with Karen Page’s subversion of the innocent girl stereotype, and the fight against the patriarchy that got us addicted to Jessica Jones in the first place.

It’s time for a change. And the think pieces and Twitter arguments aren’t going to end until we get it.

Single Mothers on TV

During this past season of The Mindy Project, Mindy had a baby. When baby Leo arrived, it became clear that the opposing lifestyles that made Mindy and Danny’s will-they-won’t-they so cute were, in the context of raising a child, a total disaster. It’s a testament to the writing of TMP that after three seasons of wanting it, I was left with the decisive feeling that Mindy and Danny should not be together by the end of the first half of its current fourth outing.

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Since returning from its mid-season break, TMP has hit the reset button. We have returned to the date-of-the-week format that Mindy popularised in season one. What’s changed however, is Leo. At the beginning of the show, a lot of Mindy’s determination to find her perfect guy came from the desire for marriage and family. She thought she found that with Danny, got engaged, had Leo, and then everything fell apart. Now she wants to reverse engineer the thing, while caring for Leo and starting her own business.

I actually really like the way that The Mindy Project has dealt with Mindy’s unexpected single parenthood. Is it realistic? Not especially. But it is a representation that we haven’t seen before: it’s mostly a positive one. Yes, Mindy feels guilt and sadness that her relationship with Danny didn’t work out, and worries what the implications for Leo could be, but she isn’t feeling shame. We aren’t presented with the fact of her single parenthood as a reason behind her mistakes and disasters. Nobody is judging her. The people in her life are mostly either supportive or pretty indifferent about the situation.

Even the attempted shaming of Mindy doesn’t really land. In Danny’s absence, the conservative viewpoint is supplied by Mindy’s latest sexy-but-disapproving love interest, Jody. His strict views are only ever used as a punchline – he calls himself an old fashioned gentleman while sleeping with 18-year-old college students and sometimes, his brother’s wife.

In Bernardo and Anita, a high point in the season and the series as a whole, during a dinner party when Mindy makes a joke about being an Indian unmarried mother, Jody responds: ‘to be fair I think parents of any race find that shameful’. Silence falls. Nobody at the dinner party is into Jody’s opinion. It’s deliberately awkward and said with the intention of making Jody, not Mindy, look bad. To prove the point, the moment is contrasted with another at the end of the episode: Mindy’s parents make a rare appearance to tell her how proud of her they are. Any remaining barbs from Jody’s remarks are neutralised.

This stands in pretty stark contrast to the single parents of TV history. I loved the show and I am awaiting the Netflix revival as eagerly as anybody, but throughout the seasons of Gilmore Girls, Lorelai Gilmore was consistently shamed for the circumstances of Rory’s birth. She had Rory as a teenager, and despite considerable pressure from her parents, made the decision not to marry the guy who knocked her up. That her parents disagreed with this decision defined their relationship throughout the show. No matter what she did – work her way up to a manager in the hotel she used to clean, get her business diploma, eventually buy and run her own inn, not to mention raising a successful, ivy-league-college attending kid – she was still a failure in their eyes.

As much as I loved the show, this drove me nuts.

This is the pervading representation of single parents of TV. They are the perpetual screw ups. They had a kid and then they broke up with its dad, and this apparent ‘failure’ is used as a reason and a magnifier for all the subsequent mistakes they make. Just ask Emily Gilmore.

I’m not saying that all of the drama is unjustified. Single parenthood is hard, and not most people’s first choice, but what frustrates me is its inextricable connection to the idea of failure – if you’re a woman, anyway.

The trend is apparent in Lauren Graham’s other seminal role as a single parent, Sarah Braverman in Parenthood. Sarah Braverman, at the start of the series, is undoubtedly the black sheep of the Braverman brood. After her relationship with her drug addict partner ends, she and her children return home to live with the grandparents. At the beginning of Parenthood, Sarah is characterised by her failings. She can’t afford a home, and can’t get a job, her children are out of control. She has none of the pieces of A Successful Life that the other Braverman siblings do and serves as a foil to her sister, Julia the successful married lawyer. Once again, single parent equals screw up.

I think a lot of it has to do with ingrained notions of what women ‘should do’. Despite all evidence to the contrary, the nuclear family – husband, wife and 2.5 children – is what we are taught to strive for. So when we’re presented with a woman who couldn’t keep that ideal together, who perhaps chose to leave it or never even wanted it in the first place, we assume there must be something wrong with her. We are stuck in a never-ending discussion of whether, as women, it’s better to stay in miserable relationships ‘for the kids’ or make the ‘selfish’ decision to leave, as the miserable relationship somehow doesn’t touch the lives of the children such parents are supposedly serving. The dialogue of shame is constantly fed.

Seeing The Mindy Project shrug all this off has been so refreshing. In her interactions with her friends and colleagues there is no sense of doom about Mindy’s life as a single parent or Leo’s future. It’s simply the next incarnation of her life. Yeah, it can be difficult, but whatever comes up, she and Leo figure out and thrive. It is my hope that in future television we see single mothers depicted as strong, resourceful and caring women without the need to shame them.

Lady Memoirs for the Soul

We are fast approaching the end of summer. Even though I am no longer a student, I can’t help but think of September as the beginning of… something. The thought of it makes me feel reinvigorated somehow. Does anyone else feel this way?

What I want, in periods like these, is to feed that sense of invigoration. For me, that means reading the thoughts of the people I most admire. So, books by women.

Here are a few to kick start your inspiration engine:

Lady memoirs

Yes Please – Amy Poehler

I thoroughly believe that everyone should read this book. I have the audiobook, and I listen to it whenever I am having a hard day. Amy Poehler is such a giving, open hearted writer. It pours out of her and infects you with its goodness.

“Hopefully as you get older, you start to learn how to live with your demon. It’s hard at first. Some people give their demon so much room that there is no space in their head or bed for love. They feed their demon and it gets really strong and then it makes them stay in abusive relationships or starve their beautiful bodies. But sometimes, you get a little older and get a little bored of the demon. Through good therapy and friends and self-love you can practice treating the demon like a hacky, annoying cousin. Maybe a day even comes when you are getting dressed for a fancy event and it whispers, “You aren’t pretty,” and you go, “I know, I know, now let me find my earrings.” Sometimes you say, “Demon, I promise you I will let you remind me of my ugliness, but right now I am having hot sex so I will check in later.”

The Art of Asking – Amanda Palmer

Amanda Palmer is a singer on an art mission. Her memoir chronicles her journey from human statue to record breaking Kickstarter legend.

The Art of Asking is a book about art and trust and love. Amanda’s is a life lived to the fullest reaches of vulnerability and fearlessness. It makes wonderful reading.

“There’s a difference between wanting to be looked at and wanting to be seen.

When you are looked at, your eyes can be closed. You suck energy, you steal the spotlight. When you are seen, your eyes must be open, and you are seeing and recognizing your witness. You accept energy and you generate energy. You create light.

One is exhibitionism, the other is connection.

Not everybody wants to be looked at.

Everybody wants to be seen.” 

Wild – Cheryl Strayed

Wild is a story of healing. After losing her mother at 21, Cheryl Strayed’s life falls apart. Her family disintegrates, her relationship with her husband implodes, and her relationship with heroin gets intimate.

Until one day she just can’t take it anymore. Until one day she picks up a guide to hiking the Pacific Crest Trail, a 2000 mile track across America. Until one day she decides to walk that trail, alone.

It’s an introspective, vulnerable, funny, heart breaking read.

“The father’s job is to teach his children how to be warriors, to give them the confidence to get on the horse to ride into battle when it’s necessary to do so. If you don’t get that from your father, you have to teach yourself.” 

I Was Told There’d Be Cake – Sloane Crosley

There is an essay in this book about how one time Sloane Crosley threw a very tense dinner party and one of guests shit on the floor of her bathroom.

Obviously a must read.

“Life starts out with everyone clapping when you take a poo and goes downhill from there.” 

Big Magic – Elizabeth Gilbert

Okay, so I guess this one technically isn’t a memoir. It does, however, feature stories from Liz Gilbert’s extensive creative life. If you care at all about creating, or if even a little part of you wants to make something, I beg you to read this book. It isn’t some art instruction manual, or a book about the morning routine that will make you write a best seller. It’s a simple exploration or creativity. It is about the joy of making something just because you want to make it.

It is not a book about success, in the traditional sense. It is a book that asks you to commit to creating because it’s what your heart wants. I think it is a book many of us bloggers would benefit greatly from reading.

“Do whatever brings you to life, then. Follow your own fascinations, obsessions, and compulsions. Trust them. Create whatever causes a revolution in your heart.”